I've always been a big believer that Toronto geographically is not an East Coast City. It is nowhere near the Atlantic, in fact, the Appalachian Mountains divide the Blue Jays from every team in the American League East.
This season, it might be more than geography that separates Toronto from Tampa Bay, Boston, New York and Baltimore.
It was a very busy offseason for all teams in the AL East, except for Toronto. GM JP Ricciardi, hamstrung by the sagging Canadian Dollar, seemed to loose not only a key contributor from last year, but also any potential buying party.
Open doors and open wallet for New Yankee Stadium.
A cloud hung over the farewells that sung out across Yankee Stadium last season. Where was the postseason celebration of the all-time winning franchise in all of sports?
Why did they not say good-bye to the ghosts of the ol' Stadium the way they deserved? Being pushed out of the playoffs by Boston and up start Tampa Bay was no way to cap the legacy of the House that Ruth Built.
For a team that passed on the Johan Santana sweepstakes last winter, the Yankees were not going to make the same mistake twice. Despite Brian Cashman's renewed focus about building from within their farm system, the Steinbrenner's opened up their wallet and almost matched the cost to build New Yankee Stadium.
They ended up spending $423 Million on CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira combined.
This may seem like it's more money than it actually is, as the Yankees shed Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, Ivan Rodriguez and Carl Pavano off of the payroll. Needless to say, the team did address some of their biggest weak spots.
Last season was not a fluke.
The Tampa Bay Rays are unfortunately not changing stadiums this season. Their team might have been better than the Toronto Blue Jays last year, but Tropicana Field still sucks worse than the Blue Jays home field the Rogers Centre. This unfortunately is only one of two areas where the Blue Jays look to be better than this new stalwart of the AL East.
The other area in which the Rays are weaker? Closer, which appears to be the weakest link in what is becoming an amazingly young, strong team out of Tampa.
Left fielder Carl Crawford is healthy this season and looks to steal over 100 bases in combo with budding superstar Center fielder B.J. Upton. Along with newly acquired Matt Joyce, the Tampa Bay Rays are looking to have one of the best young outfields in all of the Baseball.
The best foundation of any infield is power at the corners. With Carlos Pena having another excellent season last year and with the emergence of future MVP candidate Evan Longoria, they are packing a punch.
In a division that has such awesome hitting teams as New York, Boston and potentially Baltimore this year (Toronto who?), starting pitching to keep these feared line-ups in check is going to be the key to any team's success.
A healthy Scott Kazmir, a rock steady James Shields, the power pitching of Matt Garza and key control Andy Sonnastine, combined with a full season of last years bullpen hero David Price, the Rays are strong and deep.
What are they going to do without the drama, errr, I mean Manny?
Most teams would have folded if their best hitter mentally took a vacation and stopped playing in the middle of the season. The Boston Red Sox shrugged off such shenanigans, and showed their bench depth.
A new AL MVP emerged from all of this chaos in Dustin Pedroia. He was followed closely by the third-place finisher in MVP voting, Kevin Youklis.
The Red Sox seemed to change the face of their team overnight. They moved away from having Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Mike Lowell, their three through five hitters carry the team, to being a nicely balanced hitting team. Along with Pedroia, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury has emerged has a terror on the base paths.
The player Boston received for Manny Ramirez in a three-way trade halfway through last season, Jason Bay, statistically helped everybody forget about Manny being Manny.
Boston surely missed the dreadlocks, but they got a player who fit into the team concept that got Boston to within one game of the World Series last year.
Birds of a feather will soon flock together
The Baltimore Orioles tried to open up their wallets to bring back Mark Teixeira to his hometown. Luckily for them, the lights of Broadway and pinstripes beckoned. Baltimore always seems to be a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde team.
While trying to build a team from their own farm system, they foolishly dived into the free agent pool, making high dollar signings that would block developing talent. They are now a nice combination of tenured veterans and budding superstars.
Nick Markakis continued to cement his standing as one of baseball's bright talents. Along with Adam Jones and newly acquired Felix Pie, Baltimore has the chance to have one of the better young outfields in the game for years.
Along with one of the top catching prospects in the game, Matt Wieters, the Orioles have an excellent young core that will soon rival Tampa Bay's.
Baltimore has has also shown that they are much more savvy than they have been in the past, over the last year adding Adam Jones, Felix Pie, Ryan Freel, Rich Hill, Greg Zaun, Ty Wigginton, Cesar Izturis, Mark Hendrickson and Koji Uehara.
Quite a shopping list and more importantly, President of Baseball Operations Andy McPhail has show that chemistry and the ever so important "glue guys" were the key to the Orioles improving and moving out of the cellar.
From four aces to one
The Toronto Blue Jays have been solid competitors since the last time they finished last in 2004. A streak of top-three finishes in the AL East from 2005 - 2007 was finally broken last year and it is an indication of things to come.
With every other team making an effort to improve and fill in the holes in either their batting line-up, starting rotation, bullpen or bench, the Blue Jays have unfortunately taken a step back in all facets of the game.
Their starting rotation lost number two starter AJ Burnett as mentioned to the rival Yankees and both Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan to injury. Toronto's rotation suddenly has ace Roy Halladay at the top and potential hope and promise in the other four spots.
David Purcey and Brett Cecil could be nice surprises this year, but Marcum and McGowan were demonstrating quasi-ace status themselves before getting hurt last season.
The lone new bright spot in the line-up this season will be the addition of Travis Snider. Any bat will be an welcome bat, with Vernon Wells slumping the past two seasons due to injury and Adam Lind constantly fighting for respect and regular playing time.
The infield is quite anemic offensively, but hopefully a healthy Aaron Hill and Scot Rolen will add some spark, but Marco Scutaro at shortstop and Lyle Overbay at first base are not going to help score the runs that will be needed to keep up with the Blue Jays division rivals.
The AL East has arguably baseball's three best teams in the game, the Tampa Bay Rays, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. There is only room for two of these teams to make the playoffs, one as division winner and the other left wondering how to get better for next season.
This environment makes for tough competition, and the weaker teams in the division will suffer the consequences. Without the starting pitching depth, the Blue Jays might finally be making some changes, probably before the offseason.
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